Forests and the forestry sector
Forests and forestry have traditionally been the backbone of Finland¿s economy and feature in the daily life of most Finns. Although Finland has diversified its economy, and forestry and forest derived products today are the second, not the first, factor in the economy (surpassed by the electronics industry), the forests maintain their importance in Finnish life, providing wood and non-wood products for local consumption and industry, job opportunities for rural people, a traditional means of investment for citizens to cut in times of need, and space for recreation and spiritual values.
Finland has a relatively rare concept of Everyman¿s rights (Jokamiehenoikeus) which gives everyone, Finns and other nationalities alike, the right to move freely outdoors. Picking berries and mushrooms is permitted even on privately owned land; thus free forest access provides, in addition to products for local or family consumption, income-earning opportunities for those who sell non-wood forest products. Everyman¿s right has traditionally been exercised with due concern for the environment and common courtesy to the landowner or those living in the vicinity.
Private citizens own 62 percent of forest land, while companies own 9 percent and the State 25 percent. (The majority of State-owned forests are in the north of the country, in areas of low productivity.) The remaining 4 percent is under common ownership by cities, village communities, etc. There are more than 440 000 private forest owners. Private forest owners thus have an important role in the sustainable management of Finland¿s forests and the conservation of forest ecosystems.
Forest covers almost 22 million hectares, 72 percent of Finland¿s land area. The standing volume of Finland¿s forests is at its highest since national forest inventories began in 1921. According to the combined results of the eighth and ninth inventories (1987-1994 and 1996-2000), the total growing stock volume was 1 908 million cubic metres and the annual increment was 77.6 million cubic metres. In recent years, the annual volume increment has exceeded drain by almost 20 million cubic metres.
The Forest and Park Service manages State-owned land and water, which cover 12 million hectares, of which 3.3 million hectares are productive forests. The remaining areas consist of statutory protected areas, wilderness areas, poorly productive lands, non-productive lands and other special areas. The State lands represent one-quarter of the total land area of Finland. Protected areas (comprising 27 national parks and 19 nature reserves as well as peatland reserves, other special reserves and private protected areas) cover about 4 percent of the total land area. Because of Everyman¿s rights, protected areas in Finland have a different role than in countries where the only areas available to the public are parks and protected areas.
Products and trade
Forestry is one of the most important economic sectors, accounting for about 8 percent of GDP. In 1999, the value of forest industry exports totalled about US$12 000 million, accounting for 30 percent of total exports. Finland is a major producer and exporter of sawnwood, panels and paper products. With approximately 0.5 percent of the world¿s forests, Finland accounts for 15 percent of the world¿s exports of paper and paperboard. Wood pulp production serves mostly the domestic market; some recovered papers are imported for paper production. Important non-wood forest products in Finland include lichen, wild berries, wild mushrooms and game.
The forests are of vital importance for promoting the welfare of Finland as a whole and its countryside in particular. Value-added wood processing and wood energy production and multiple use entrepreneurship ¿ picking and processing natural products, tourism and various forms of recreational services ¿ provide new employment opportunities for slowing down rural unemployment. Forests provide extra income for farmers and other private forest owners. The total gross income of selling wood from private forests is around US$900 million to $1 400 million yearly.
Because of the harsh climate, the number of native tree species in Finland is very restricted: two coniferous tree species (Scots pine and Norway spruce), two species of birch, one species of aspen, and two species of frequently shrubby alder species, the latter occurring mainly in the south of the country.
Over the past century, the forests of Finland have changed as a result of both natural processes and human influences, including frequent fires, slash and burn and grazing of domestic animals in the forest. Intensive forest management and silvicultural methods over the past 50 to 60 years have increasingly favoured the two native, economically important coniferous species. The recent emphasis on biological and species diversity has led to adoption of less intensive silvicultural methods which allow for mixtures of hardwoods and conifers where feasible.
At times, controversies have arisen among various stakeholder groups or have attracted public and media attention concerning issues such as the harvesting and biological regeneration of over-aged stands in northern Finland and the safeguarding of existing ¿old forests¿. Nevertheless, recently published studies have shown that a surprisingly high proportion of Finnish citizens understand and appreciate the need for forest management and that most prefer managed to unmanaged forests for recreational purposes.
Many of Finland¿s vast peatlands were drained for agricultural use in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. In the 1940s and the 1950s large areas of peatlands were also drained for forestry use (natural regeneration or planting). Draining of peatlands for forestry use was stopped in the 1980s as the value of these areas as important natural habitats was increazingly recognized. While more than 6 million hectares of the original recorded area of peatlands have been converted to other uses over the past 100 years, some 40 percent of the natural peatland areas still exist today. These areas are frequently protected. In addition to intrinsic ecosystem values, the peatlands also serve as efficient carbon sinks.
Last updated: June 2002